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"That's sick!!! Yo Yo Yo, Whatever! .................. Crossing the bridge to Adolescence"

reprinted from Tone Magazine

Have you ever wondered where that wonderful 12 year old you knew disappeared to? Or who took her place in your home? Adolescents seem to live in a different world. The kid we watched grow from an infant to a vibrant young person disappears. Their many ideas on how to change the world, and the activities they seemed to love somehow get lost between 12 and 14. Or do they?

As a youth worker for many years, I listened to parents who felt they had lost their child. Interestingly, I also listened to teens who felt they had lost their parents. So what really happens? Well my take on it is this: The adults forget how to listen, thinking they know their child's needs and wants. And the adolescents...they stop talking because no one is listening to what they really say.

Consider this: You are playing a card game which you know well. Actually it is your livelihood. You are promoted to a new level. It is exciting but the rules are a little different. No one tells you about the rule changes. Actually it seems as if they speak a different language here. You try and tell your superiors about the new rules, but they don't really listen because they still play by the old rules. They expect you to do so too.

You go back and forth between the new level and your advisors and your frustration builds. You cannot win anymore. You no longer know what the correct rules are and you cannot fit in with the new group unless you abide by their have to fit in because your future depends on it. You know others who were promoted ahead of you. They tell you to forget the old rules, they laugh at you if you still try and follow the old path. Your mentors are stuck in the previous level and are not helpful. Your world has changed and you cannot go back. No one understands your situation. What do you do?

This is what many adolescents experience. They enter high school and things are not what they were expecting. There are many sexual encounters, (comments, brush-ups, unspoken expectations). If they speak up, they are laughed at, bullied. There is a new language which is very cultural to the school and peers and they must learn it to survive. Adults often do not appreciate the terms involved. There is a code of dress and a code of conduct which are not the same as before high school. They must follow the new rules or be ostracized. If they try and discuss their concerns with their parents, they are not really heard, so they stop trying. Instead they isolate in their rooms, try and figure out how to navigate with others who are doing the same thing and become angry at those who they believe should have prepared them for the change in rules.

Instead of support from their parents with these new conditions they face, they face disciplinary action for not following the old rules. They are hurt and confused and feel let down. They start to fight back and do the things which are acceptable in their new culture. They feel very alone and angry, and as a result of those feelings they behave in ways which make the culture gap grow bigger. They rebel against the old rules which no longer work for them and they look to new activities to gain respect from the new culture. Hopefully this explains where that wonderful 12 year old disappeared to. The truth is they are still there, just hurting underneath those new behaviors we see.

As a parent, you may wonder how you can cross this cultural gap. It is really quite simple. Slow down, spend some time with your adolescent and really turn up the sound and listen to what they are telling you. Share with them in the new culture they have found, and keep them close by supporting their growth with the new rules. Help them adapt so that it is a win/win situation for everyone. Don't make them choose sides, because if you do, you risk no longer being on the same team anymore.

The passage from childhood to adulthood is very turbulent these days. There are new levels of violence in our schools, and we really have no idea what the day-to-day life of our adolescent is like, unless we ask them and listen to what they tell us. The rules have definitely changed since I was a student in high school. I know that much. If we are lucky, our children have enough strength to navigate through and come out the other side in one piece. But not all do, and it is much easier for adolescents to make it through if those who have brought them to the edge of the water, are not too far away when they need a life raft.

So: Go back to where you were playing the card game once again. Imagine that you are able to seek advice on how to adapt to the new rules from a mentor who is able to understand that the rules are changing for you, and is willing to trust you to try new things and keep supporting and listening to you, as you go. Knowing that you will make some mistakes, and knowing that you may lose on occasion, they still believe in you. How much better are your odds of winning?

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Sue Stinson RN CPMHN(C), CEF